Even if she hadn't starred in a movie spoof of "American Idol," Mandy Moore would have a vested interest in the series.
Recently playing a top contender in a similar talent contest in "American Dreamz," the young singer-actress is watching FOX's actual "Idol" closely as it heads toward its fifth-season finale Wednesday, May 24.
At the end of the two-hour show from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, host Ryan Seacrest will announce which of two finalists will get the same career launch as predecessors Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino and Carrie Underwood.
"I'm not a big sports fan, so I sort of feel like this is my sense of competition," Moore says of her "American Idol" devotion. "It's not sports programming, but it's still competitive. You pick the person you hopefully get to follow through to the end, and you root for them each week. Also, as a performer, it's fun for me to see who's up to the challenge every week. I can't even imagine how overwhelming it has to be.
"One of the biggest questions I've gotten while doing 'American Dreamz' promotion," Moore adds, "is whether I would have pursued the 'American Idol' route had I not found success another way. I definitely would have, being such a fan of the show, but I don't know if I would have made it this far. With the thought of having to perform in front of that audience and sing a different type of song each week and take the criticism from the judges, I know they really have to put up with a lot."
Indeed, Simon Cowell has been in especially rare form this season in the eyes of many "Idol" followers, some of his remarks prompting on-camera arguments with fellow judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.
Moore wouldn't want to be in any of their seats.
"I would be scared to really be honest," she says. "I do my own critiquing from home by shouting at the TV. I think I agree most often with Randy; since he's both a producer and a musician, he's always right-on about pitch."
Taylor Hicks is Moore's favorite 2006 "American Idol" contender, but she predicted at this writing, "I think Chris [Daughtry] is going to win. If there's justice, the two of them will be in the final. I definitely think that this season, more than the others, people on the show will find success not necessarily from winning. I don't think you could say that in the past."
Moore is proud of her widely praised work as surface-sweet schemer Sally Kendoo in "American Dreamz." She says it was "definitely a cut above" to work with director Paul Weitz and actors Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid.
"I never quite got over the fact that I was working with a huge movie star like Hugh," she says. "Luckily, my character is also supposed to be in awe of him through most of the story. The later scenes, where we're supposed to know each other better, definitely required more acting."
Striving to reach that level appealed to Moore, since she finds it hard to look at her earliest movies, including her 2002 starring vehicle "A Walk to Remember." She reveals, "I never, ever like to watch myself, but I caught a little bit of that movie on TV recently. I hadn't seen it in a while, and it's so odd to look back at yourself. I just approached things so differently then. It's that feeling of, 'I wish I knew then what I know now.'"
While Moore obviously has to sing in "American Dreamz," her music has largely taken a back seat to her acting lately. After appearing in such films as "The Princess Diaries," "Saved!" and "Chasing Liberty," she did guest-star turns on HBO's "Entourage" and boyfriend Zach Braff's NBC sitcom "Scrubs." Later this year, she'll be seen opposite Diane Keaton in "Because I Said So." Currently filming "License to Wed" with Robin Williams, she's also a guest voice on the season finale of FOX's "The Simpsons" Sunday, May 21.
Still, Moore has been writing songs for an album she hopes to complete and release by year's end.
"To be quite honest," she says, "I tend to gravitate toward roles that don't require me to sing. For some reason, I'd rather keep the two things separate, but ['American Dreamz' part] felt like a very natural choice.
"I loved the script, and this was a great, juicy part for an actress. Sally isn't necessarily supposed to be the best singer, but she just knows how to win. That's what I had the most fun with, her getting people to fall in love with her more than her talent."
Also a clothing mogul via her popular T-shirt line Mblem, Moore says of her multifaceted career, "I tend to think I don't really have a plan, but I guess I do at the end of the day. It's just to continue to make smart choices, and to only take on what I know I can handle ... while still trying to find challenges, of course. I don't think I've ever been in over my head, and I want to continue that."